In this sequel to The Calling, Sheriff Luke Atwell and his deputies face individual and collective challenges from outlaws, gunfighters, renegade Indians, card sharps, and a thieving medicine show in a Kansas town in the 1870’s. The personal lives of the lawmen also change and nature takes its destructive toll on the town and its residents. When a black neighbor’s family is attacked and the oldest son killed, the sheriff gets the help of federal law enforcement and they chase a band of marauding ex-Confederates out to undo the changes resulting from the Civil War.
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Jim Hanley is a Human Resources professional, adjunct professor and short story writer, Jim has had over 70 stories appear in print and online publications.
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The air was crisp and a wind blew the dust around their feet but Atwell and his neighbor paid no attention, and they occasionally swatted at the swarming flies circling them. Abner was the first to see the smoke drifting eastward, shredded by the breeze. He called out to Atwell as the flames were slightly visible in the direction of his place. Both men dropped their tools and ran toward their horses, galloping the distance to the nearby farm. That morning, Peggy had clothing arriving at the store and Rebecca had offered to watch Sammy while he played with Micah. Abner leaped from his horse to where his wife was sitting, blood dripping from a deep cut on her forehead. Atwell looked around for Sammy but only saw the bodies of pigs scattered about and the burning hay gathered on the side of the barn. The dry grass was at a slight distance from the barn wall so the flames did not carry over. The wind was moving away from the barn, which further kept the building from catching fire. The sheriff ran to where Abner and Rebecca were sitting on the entrance steps to the house. She was hysterical and could only shrug to convey that she didn’t know where Sammy and Micah were. Atwell and Abner turned to search the area and saw the prone form of Abner and Rebecca’s oldest near the side of the house. Abner was the first to reach his son and when Atwell came alongside, Abner said, “He’s gone. I can see that. Find your boy.”
As he moved from where he stood, the sheriff heard Rebecca call to him, “Micah, find Micah, too.”
Atwell ran to the other side of the barn where vegetables were beginning to show in the overturned soil. Bleeding pigs littered the ground and the live ones squealed with fear. Micah, with blood across his cheek and flowing from his mouth, was shaking Sammy as if to wake him from a sleep. When the sheriff got to their side, the black child sobbed. “Is he dead?” he asked in a youthful squeak. Atwell could see a dangling tooth in the boy’s mouth.
Putting his ear to his son’s chest, the sheriff heard a heartbeat. Suddenly, Sammy’s eyes opened; he screamed and slipped back into unconsciousness. Atwell saw that the child’s arm was unnaturally bent, probably broken, he thought. Bending over his son, Atwell lifted him gently and put him over his shoulder and then took hold of Micah’s hand. When Rebecca saw her bloodied son, she moaned. The boy ran to her and she gripped him so tight he let out a yell.
“Be careful, Rebecca, he could have broken bones,” Atwell said.
Abner was still at the side of his oldest boy, soaking the boy’s face with his tears.
Atwell called out to his neighbor, “Abner, take Thomas inside. I’ll get the wagon and we’ll bring Rebecca and the boys to town where Doc Eylward can tend to them.”
Putting Sammy on the ground, the sheriff hitched the barn horse and Abner’s mount to the wagon and tied his animal to the back. He went to Rebecca to encourage her to sit up front but as she stood to go, she collapsed. Atwell picked her up and put her in the back of the wagon. Next he placed Sammy and Micah in the rear as well. Rebecca awoke and gripped her son while stroking Sammy’s head. Atwell couldn’t find Abner so he headed toward the house. Inside, he saw that Thomas was laid out on the table. Abner stood over his oldest boy, tears pouring onto the inert young man. Atwell gently touched his neighbor’s shoulder and told him they needed to get the children to town.
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